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Vegas Golden Knights Top 25 Under 25: Shea Theodore proving to be one of the better young defensemen in hockey

Shea Theodore has quickly become one of Vegas’ most important players, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Minnesota Wild Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Knights On Ice’s 2019-20 preseason Golden Knights Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the top 25 players under the age of 25 currently in Vegas’ system. Six Knights On Ice writers created their own Top 25 Under 25 ballots. Each individual writer’s ballot was then used to generate a composite score that forms the final ballot.

It’s been a unique summer for Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore. After a brutal Game 7 loss to the San Jose Sharks in April, Theodore suffered another heartbreaker about a month later in the World Championship when Team Canada lost to the Finns for the gold medal.

It was after that game, though, when his summer, and life, really took a turn.

Theodore failed a drug test not long before their loss to Finland. The reason? Not an illegal substance.

Cancer.

“As young men, as hockey players, we don’t always like to be vulnerable,” Theodore said in his post published on The Players’ Tribune last week.

“Even with stuff as serious as cancer, we like to put on a brave face and pretend everything is normal. That’s what we’re good at. The big stuff, life and death — it’s almost too much to process. But for me, everything gets real when I think about all the little things that could’ve been taken away from me.”

Theodore is now cancer-free and ready for the start of the 2019-20 season. And judging by his play the last two seasons, it’s hard to think of a more important defenseman, save for maybe Nate Schmidt, on the Golden Knights’ roster.

No. 1: Shea Theodore

Position: D
Age: 24 (August 3, 1995)
Size: 6-foot-2, 194 pounds
Nationality: Canadian

Theodore was nothing short of excellent in 2018-19. He led all Vegas defensemen with 37 points (12 goals, 25 assists) and led the entire team with over 1,587 minutes of ice time. And let’s not forget his admirable performance in the postseason — in seven playoff games, Theodore led all Vegas blueliners with eight points.

Theodore wasn’t just good in comparison to fellow Knights skaters, though. He also ranked third out of all 325 defensemen to appear in an NHL game last season with 82 takeaways. Only Brent Burns (88) and Jaccob Slavin (86) registered more. He was just as impressive in the play-driving department as well, ranking ninth out of all NHL defensemen (minimum 200 minutes) with a 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage of 56.28 — a mark higher than even the likes of Torey Krug, Kris Letang, P.K. Subban and Alex Pietrangelo.

Stunningly, Theodore was actually one of the worst defenseman on the Knights roster in terms of Goals For percentage. In fact, Deryk Engelland was the only defenseman with a lower 5-on-5 GF% than Theodore’s 47.96. What exactly does this mean? Well, Theodore was more likely to be on the ice for a goal against than a goal for. However, he was also pretty darn unlucky last season. Despite his low GF%, Theodore actually led the entire team in expected goals at 5-on-5.

All in all, the Golden Knights are markedly better when Theodore is on the ice as opposed to when he’s on the bench. The graphic below (via Evolving-Hockey) does a good job of representing that.

What can we expect from Theodore in 2019-20? Maybe an even larger role. One could argue that Theodore is now ready to take on first-pair minutes — perhaps with Brayden McNabb, who spent the final third of the 2018-19 season skating alongside Theodore. In nearly 300 minutes of time spent together last season, the duo of Theodore and McNabb logged a very good CF% of 57.29 at 5-on-5. With at least one young defenseman likely to make the leap to the NHL this season, head coach Gerard Gallant may prefer to pair Schmidt, arguably the team’s best two-way defender, with a youngster rather than an established veteran. Still, it’s a bit unclear what the exact depth chart will look like come opening night.

Regardless of who he is paired with, Theodore is bound to play an enormous role for the Golden Knights once again this season — and likely for the next six seasons. The Golden Knights wisely locked up Theodore to a long-term contract extension last summer. And at an annual cap hit of just $5,200,000, it appears his contract could end up being one of the better bargains in the NHL once the Langley, British Columbia native reaches his prime.

Theodore may not exactly be a household name for casual hockey fans, but he’s certainly on the verge of becoming one. The 24-year-old is easily the most fun player to watch on Vegas’ blue line, and it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that he could become a regular All-Star defender one day.

Without a doubt, the Golden Knights have a very special young defenseman on their hands.


Previously in Vegas Golden Knights Preseason 2019 Top 25 Under 25: